South Africa’s first custom electric game drive Land Cruisers have been released into the wild!
After automotive pioneers opened the doors to electronic vehicles, several others joined the race to produce electric vehicles, in the drive to reduce operating costs and apply new technologies to keep the environment healthy. Due to the almost quiet engines, electric safari vehicles have the potential to make eco-tourism more effective, as tourists and photographers can move closer to animals.
Some game reserves have already introduced custom electric game-drive vehicles, intending to offer a zero-emission and sustainable (and quiet) safari experience, and others will soon follow suit. In the case of the Cheetah Plains Private Game Reserve, their vehicles were rebuilt from diesel-powered Land Cruisers. Cliff Barker of Barker Performance Products was involved in the development of Cheetah Plains’ electric safari vehicles. Despite Barker’s extensive experience in conversions, electrical conversion is a relatively new field, and he had to face several challenges. Not only did the vehicles have to have enough acceleration and speed to get out of the way of an angry mammal, but they also had to be able to operate in conditions that include uneven surfaces, steep slopes, high temperatures, dust, and moisture. Cliff studied the concept and did calculations based on the expected weight of the vehicle, the minimum range, and the performance that would be required, before determining the specifications for the electric drivetrain.
Electric motors, batteries, inverters, and other components had to be sourced from abroad. To make maintenance easier, much of the standard Toyota Land Cruiser 70 Series 4-liter V6 powertrain had to be retained. The standard Toyota gearbox, transfer case, prop shafts, and axles, and their ratios, were also retained, by mounting an adapter plate on the standard bell housing and supporting it with brackets (attached to the standard engine mounts).
A reduction gear ratio of 3.0:1 would be required, and since the second gear ratio of the standard Toyota transmission is 2.46:1, Cliff decided that an adequate interim solution would be to stick the transmission in second gear lock and to later design a single-speed 3.0:1 reduction gearbox that could replace the original gearbox. The same mounting points were used so that they could remain interchangeable and so that the resale of the original Toyota engine and transmission could be used to offset the conversion costs.
For practical reasons (and to lower the center of gravity of the vehicle), the EV batteries are usually installed at floor level, but due to the risk of dust and water intrusion, this was not an option. Fortunately, the engine compartment of the Land Cruiser is large enough to accommodate both inline and V8 engines, so there was plenty of room for the electric motor. The battery pack can be placed on a tray above the electric motor in the engine compartment, where it will have suitable cooling and protection. A 12 V battery is fitted in the engine compartment to run electrical systems such as wipers and lights, the inverter, and the battery charging point. A vacuum pump provides the required boost to the standard brake booster.
The lithium battery pack contains 10 modules of a Tesla Model S battery, and each module has 444 individual cylindrical cells, which jointly provide approximately 46 kWh of battery pack capacity. When fully charged, the vehicle can travel 80 km when wildlife viewing or 100 km in normal road driving.
A typical load of passengers will be lighter than the maximum payload for which the vehicle was originally designed, allowing the front and rear suspension to be softened. Modified leaf springs, additional coil springs, and specially tuned Koni shocks were added.
The traditional benches were replaced with individual seats, shaped to provide extra support and comfort. As an extra, the seats are heated for early morning or evening game drives, and charging points and storage boxes were fitted for cameras, with external mounts for cooler boxes and a folding table built into the front bullbar. All the steelwork is purpose-built before being sandblasted and powder coated. An in-house finishing department manufactured the seat frames, moulded the cushions, and made the seat covers.
The electric-powered Toyota Land Cruiser development unit has subtle “Electric” branding along the flank, with only the unique dashboard and instrument panel that hint at the possibility of a high-tech powertrain. These quiet, zero-emission Cruisers have the potential to (quietly) turn game drives into an unforgettable, eco-friendly safari experience.
Read more about other developments in the 4WD industry on our website https://n14x4.co.za/